Fr. Tim’s Homily for March 5, 2017

First Sunday of Lent –  A


Genesis 2: 7-9, 3: 1-7

Romans 5: 12-19

Matthew 4: 1-11


(Matthew Kelly, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, pages 5-37)

The Prologue and Chapter One:  entitled “Incredible Possibilities” [pages 5-37]

         The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is about Jesus spending forty days and forty nights in the desert, praying and fasting – making a long retreat.  And during that time Satan, the devil, comes and presents Jesus with three temptations.  And Jesus three times says “no” to sin and “yes” to His Heavenly Father’s will.

You and I are now beginning the forty days of Lent with Jesus – a time for prayer, for penance, for charitable works – and we are making a kind of long retreat together.  We use this time to say “no” to sin, and to say “yes” to God and His will for us.

I am sure that you have all begun your plans for Lent this year, but I thought I would give you another suggestion that really won’t get in the way of what you are already doing.  In fact it can enrich your Lent beyond your imagining.

And here it is:  Say “yes” to some good spiritual reading.  Only 1% of Catholics in America have read a good Catholic book in the last twelve months.  Are you in that 1%?

To make your answer easier, we are putting a great Catholic book in your hands today:  The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic by Matthew Kelly.  I am so excited about this book that I wanted every household in our Saint Joseph and Nativity Parish Families to have a copy to take home with you today on this First Sunday of Lent — free of charge!

And what are the four signs of a dynamic Catholic?  Prayer, Study, Generosity and Evangelization.  [And don’t let those words scare you.  They will come to be good, close friends!]

For each of the six Sundays of Lent, I will be basing my homilies on the Scriptures and on a section of this book.  The page references for each week are listed in this weekend’s bulletin along with a set of discussion questions for this week.

The discussion questions can be used for personal reflection as well as for discussion in your homes, with your friends and with your prayer groups.

There is also information in this weekend’s bulletin about how to enter the website for the study guide for this book as well as how to obtain an electronic version or audio verson.

The reading assignments and the discussion questions will be printed in the bulletin every week for each of the six Sundays of Lent.

It is all broken down, asking you to read about 30-35 pages each week – or 4-5 pages each day.  Can we do this?  Yes or yes?

Let me tell you a bit about what is in store for us in The Prologue and Chapter One:  entitled “Incredible Possibilities” [and found in pages 5-37] which you may read this week.

The 80/20 Study

And I will let Matthew Kelly tell you in his own words:

Several years ago I was having dinner with a group of priests in Minnesota before an event. I was the only non-cleric at the table, and some of the priests started talking about different things that were happening in their parishes. One of the priests was very young, and he was lamenting about how few people were actively involved at his parish.

My mind was starting to drift toward what I was going to speak about at the event when I heard something that jolted me back into the moment. Sitting at the head of the table like a king was a warm, humorous, and completely down to-earth priest who must have weighed 350 pounds and was about eighty years old. Waving a finger down the table, he said to the young priest, “Listen, I have been the pastor of seven parishes over the past forty years, and I can tell you that it doesn’t matter where you go, you will discover the same fifty people do everything in a parish.”

The comment got my attention. I immediately wondered if it was true. In the following weeks I started making informal phone calls to some pastors I knew. I asked them questions like:

  • Who are your most engaged parishioners?
  • Why are they so engaged?
  • What percentage of registered parishioners are actively involved in the parish?
  • What percentage of parishioners give regularly to the parish?

The answers they gave me seemed to anecdotally support the priest’s comment, but I wanted data.

There is a concept known as the Pareto Principle. It states that roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. In business this same concept is often referred to as the 80/20 principle.

I had always been curious about whether the 80/20 principle would apply to the Church, and the priest’s comment had piqued my curiosity. Did the rule hold true in Catholic parishes? The only way to find out for sure would be to obtain some hard data.

Over the course of many months I studied a series of parishes from coast to coast, examining two areas in particular: volunteerism and financial contribution. Both are significant signs of engagement. What I found left me speechless.

Did the 80/20 principle hold true in Catholic parishes?  No. Not even close. This is what I discovered:

  • 6.4% of registered parishioners contribute 80% of the volunteer hours in a parish
  • 6.8% of registered parishioners donate 80% of financial contributions
  • There is an 84% overlap between these two groups

I was amazed.  Roughly 7% of Catholic parishioners are doing almost everything in their faith community and paying almost entirely for the maintenance and mission of the parish. This led me to the seminal question: What is the difference between engaged Catholics and disengaged Catholics? It came as a staggering surprise to discover that there was no significant research available on this question.  [So I did some.]

The future of the Catholic Church depends upon us finding out what makes this small group of Catholics so engaged. If we cannot identify what drives their engagement, we cannot replicate it.

For the rest of the book I will refer to these highly engaged parishioners as either “the 7%” or “Dynamic Catholics.”  I will refer to their less engaged counterparts as “the 93%.”

At first I found these results very discouraging, but it turns out this might be the best news the Catholic Church has received in decades. Why is it good news that only 7% of American Catholics are highly engaged?

Well, think about the tremendous contribution that the Catholic Church makes every day in communities large and small across America and around the world. Every single day we serve Catholics and non-Catholics around the world by feeding more people, housing more people, clothing more people, caring for more sick people, visiting more prisoners, and educating more students than any other institution on the planet. Now remember that all this is less than 7% of our capability. That is good news.

If we engaged just another 1% of your parishioners over the next year, transforming them into Dynamic Catholics, it would be a game changer. It would result in 15% more volunteer hours, which would allow you to serve other parishioners and your community that much more effectively. It would also bring about a 15% increase in revenue, which would allow your parish to invest in powerful and important ministries that would further drive engagement. All this as a result of a shift from 7% to 8%—just 1% more highly engaged Catholics.

This is the 1% that could change the world. If we can focus on engaging 1% more of our parishioners in a really intentional way each year, we can literally change the world.

For Our Parishes

The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic – prayer, study, generosity and evangelization – can manifest themselves in different ways from one person to the next. But imagine for a moment if everyone in our Saint Joseph and Nativity Parish Families did these four things:

  • 1. Spent ten minutes each day in prayerful conversation with God (prayer).
  • 2. Read five pages of a great Catholic book each day (study).
  • 3. Gave 1% more of their income to support the mission of their parish this year than they did last year (generosity).
  • 4. Did one thing each week to share the genius of Catholicism with someone else (evangelization).

How would our parishes be different after one year? How would they be different ten years from now?

Prayer, Study, Generosity, and Evangelization.  It is a simple plan, but complex problems often demand simple solutions. It is the simplicity that allows widespread adoption and participation.

Are you a Dynamic Catholic?  Are you ready to let God take your spiritual life to the next level?  Would you like to help invigorate our parish life?  Would you like to live out the genius of Catholicism in your everyday life?

Studying this book together, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, can change the way we live our faith and the way we teach our faith.  This book is a game changer.

With God’s grace, let us use this Lent retreat opportunity to say “no” to the temptation to sit on the sidelines and be a disengaged Catholic.  And let us say “yes” to God and His will for each of us:  to become a more “Dynamic Catholic.”

Can we do this?  Yes or yes?

Happy reading and reflecting, everyone!  And Happy Lent!